THE NIGHT THEY MADE A BABY
Mia Palinski had never even considered herself the kind of girl to have a one-night stand. Yet there she was, in a big-city hotel room, wrapped in the arms of a handsome stranger she simply couldn't resist. Now she's pregnant, and she has no idea how to contact the fatheruntil he shows up in her hometown of Sugar Falls.
The man she knew only as "GP" is Dr. Garrett (Patrick) McCormick. The ski town's newest orthopedist has literally just opened his practice when Mia walks through his door. And although he is surprised at her announcement, he's ready to jump right into fatherhood. Mia, on the other hand, is wary. Doctor Daddy seems wonderful, but can she trust Garrett with her heart when he won't reveal his own?
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The melting ice cubes in Mia Palinski's vodka and tonic were symbolic of the way her future was dissolving before her eyes.
She'd just turned thirty, yet no matter how many times she'd told herself that it was time to come to terms with her new life, she still couldn't shake the lingering wish that tonight it should've been her up on the stage of the Egyptian Theatre, pirouetting across the dance floor.
Watching the piano player on the opposite end of the bar, she wondered if the balding man once had bigger aspirations than playing old standards in the lounge of some swanky hotel in downtown Boise. Most performers did. At least she could take comfort in the thought that she wasn't the only one not living her dream.
And while she didn't begrudge her darling students their chance to shine in their roles as the fairy-tale wedding guests in the Idaho Youth Performing Arts' rendition of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, Mia would have been more comfortable if she hadn't been stuck backstage with Mrs. Rosellino, who thought her six-year-old daughter was going to be the next Martha Graham.
Along with most of the other dance instructors who had students performing in tonight's ballet, Mia referred to the delusional stage moms as idealists. Because unless sweet Madison Rosellino miraculously developed a decent amount of rhythm and learned to keep her finger out of her nose during performances, the sweet and quiet girl would probably never make it to Juilliard.
Her eye gave an involuntary twitch at the memory of her own mother, who was so similar to the Mrs. Rosel-linos of the world. Mia took a sip of her now diluted drink, trying to wash away the reminder of the well-meaning but overbearing woman who had pushed her only child into competitive cheer rather than classical dance. Rhonda Palinski had wanted all eyes on Mia and had forcefully maneuvered her daughter onto the football fields, where the stages were bigger, the lights were brighter and the crowds were rowdier.
Her phone vibrated on the smooth-finished walnut bar beside her glass. She saw a group text message from her friends Maxine Cooper and Kylie Gregson. She loved them and knew they wanted an update on how the Labor Day performance had gone, but she couldn't bear to put on the brave face and pretend she wasn't hosting a pity party for one in an empty hotel bar. She grabbed a handful of fancy nuts out of a silver bowl. At least she gave in to her self-commiserations only in first-class establishments.
Mia loved and hated nights like tonight. She loved the music and she loved the dancing and she loved watching her young students and their contemporaries get to display the talents that they had worked so hard on during summer rehearsals. She truly didn't even mind the overbearing parents who expected their first-graders to be ballet prodigies and became annoyed when Mia didn't push the kids harder.
But the thing she hated was the fact that she could no longer be the one on stage dancing. Thinking such a miserable thought made her feel like a jealous old has-been, an emotion she despised even more.
She rubbed her sore knee through the black satin fabric of her slim-fitting pants, and then took another sip, willing the throbbing to go away. One of her prescribed pills might help with the physical pain, but nothing could diminish the emotional trauma of having her dancing career cut short by a golf club-wielding stalker who couldn't take no for an answer.
Nope. She wouldn't go there. It was one thing to wish things had worked out differently. It was quite another to sit here and relive the scariest moment of her life. She pushed her drink away and decided to go upstairs to her suite, order several desserts from room service and scroll through the pay-per-view channel looking for an interesting movie that could take her mind off what could have been.
Keeping a low profile meant she didn't get to travel the country as much as she once had as an NFL cheerleader, so Mia normally took advantage of these quick forays into what her neighbors termed the "Big City" and made the most of the plush hotel accommodations.
She'd grown up as middle class as they came, with most of her single mom's child support checks going toward cheer camps and extra lessons. And while Mia was careful with her income as the owner of the Snowflake Dance Academy in the small town of Sugar Falls, Idaho, she wasn't opposed to little splurges a couple of times a yearespecially if they provided a quick, but safe, escape from the boring reality of her quiet existence.
And that was why she tried to ignore the text message that just flashed on her screen.
You're a great dance teacher. We're sure everything went perfectly. Don't go back to your room and sulk. Go out and live it up. We dare you!
Yep. Her best friends knew her, all right. Which meant they also knew she had no intention of accepting their ridiculous dare.
As she lifted a hand to signal the bartender to bring her check, a man walked into the lounge, his quick steps purposeful. Mia instinctively turned in the opposite direction, away from the stranger, and hoped that the guy was simply meeting someone in the nearly vacant bar. Ever since that incident with Nick Galveston, she had been careful not to draw any unwanted attention to herself and normally didn't hang out in cocktail lounges where traveling businessmen or lonely males might take any sort of interest in a young woman sitting alone at the bar.
She pulled her handbag closer to her. Why had she even stopped off here on her way back to her room? It wasn't as if she was a big drinker or looking for companionship. But after seeing the girl who played Aurora receive a huge bouquet of flowers right before the curtain closed and knowing that she would never experience that thrill again, Mia wanted something stronger than chocolate lava cake with peanut butter ganache to drown out her sorrows.
Unfortunately, the newcomer bypassed several of the empty tables and headed directly toward the small bar, near where she was sitting. He was handsome in that clean-cut all-American-boy way. However, in her experience, most men who looked like that were anything but pure and innocent.
She tried to keep her gaze averted, not wanting to risk making eye contact with him. But the large mirror across the room allowed her to take in his appearance. He wasn't overly largejust under six feetand his suit was well tailored, but his silk designer tie was undone and hanging loosely around his neck. He didn't even look in her direction as he pulled out the leather upholstered bar stool a couple of feet away. His brown hair was close cropped and his face was set in a serious scowl. If he hadn't been dressed so well, she would've assumed he was in the military.
"I'll take a Glenlivet, neat, please," he said to the bartender. When the man still didn't acknowledge her in any way, she relaxed her shoulders and attempted a covert glance down at his shoes.
She was no expert, but her friend Kylie had just ordered those same handcrafted Italian leather shoes online for her new husband. So Mia knew they cost more than the monthly rent on her small dance studio. Nope. The guy definitely wasn't military because there was no way he would be able to afford to dress or drink that well on an enlisted man's salary.
Her ears picked up the tinny sound of Harry Chapin singing about cats in cradles. The noise was in direct contrast to the piano and it took her a second to realize the song was a ringtone. His ringtone.
Whoa. This guy must have some serious daddy issues.
He fumbled, pulling his phone out of his pocket before silencing it and setting it on the bar. It immediately rang again and he whispered a curse before jabbing his finger at the screen. He had nice hands. Strong and capable-looking hands. Hands that would feel wonderful on
"GP? Hello?" The hearty male voice coming out of the small speaker interrupted her wayward thoughts and caused the man next to her to practically jump off his leather stool in surprise. "Are you there, GP? Can you hear me?"
The skilled-looking fingers she'd just been lusting over must have pushed the wrong button, accepting rather than ignoring the call.
"Stupid damn phone," he said as he lifted the offending gadget off the bar and put it to his ear.
"No, Dad," he continued. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."
Mia took a sip of the drink she'd pushed away merely minutes ago, finding herself fascinated by the father-son drama unfolding right next to her. "You can't change my mind," she heard. Pause. "No, do not have them call me." Pause. "Listen, we will just have to agree to disagree. Have a safe flight home."
GP, or whatever his name was, looked as if he wanted to throw his now disconnected phone through the large window facing the quiet downtown street. The bartender brought the man's drink and Mia signaled for her own check. Damn it. She should've left when he was on his call. She didn't do angry confrontations.
"Sorry," he said, as he slipped his cell back into his sport coat pocket. "I hate people who take personal calls in public places."
He hadn't looked in her direction at all, so it took her a moment to realize he was speaking to her. She lifted her eyes to his and had to grip the bar's counter to steady herself when his hazel gaze met hers. A little pop exploded in her tummy and she suddenly felt like she was a fizzy bottle of champagne whose cork had just been released.
He was handsome. More than handsome. His clenched jaw was chiseled, yet serious, and his sad eyes didn't look the least apologetic. Nor did they seem very predatory.
Her eyes were drawn to his hands again and she noticed something funny about the way his suit jacket hit his wrists. She realized the man was wearing cufflinksand expensive-looking ones at that. They were small gold-plated squares that had some type of an insignia embossed on theman anchor maybe, but she couldn't tell for sure without getting too close.
And Mia knew better than to get too close.
Whoever this GP guy was, he seemed more upset with his father than intent on hitting on her. She kept her purse clenched tightly next to her side, but exhaled enough to loosen some of the tension in her body.
"Don't worry about it," she said, as the bartender set a small leather folder in front of her. "I was just getting ready to go anyway."
"Please, don't leave on my account. I didn't mean to disturb you. In fact" he reached for her bill "let me pay for your drink."
"No," she said a bit too loudly. "I'm not leaving."
He looked at the bill she had scooped up before he could grab it.
"I mean, I was leaving. But not because of you."
He smiled and his even white teeth softened his expression, making him appear more boyish, rather than hawkish. Swiftly, that fizzy sensation bubbled throughout her entire bloodstream. Wow. How strong had her vodka and tonic been? She would've stood up and ran out of the lounge, but she now couldn't trust her normally well-muscled legs to hold her petite frame.
Harry Chapin began singing from GP's pocket again. "Crap. I'm sorry, I have this new phone and I can't figure out how to turn it off."
He held up the ringing device with the contact name of "Dad" lighting up the screen. It was the same model as hers, and she was an expert at screening calls.
"Here," she said, taking it from him. "You just tap on this red dot and then, once the call goes to voice mail, you go to Settings." He leaned in toward her and she could smell his musky citrus cologne. She didn't dare make eye contact with him againnot when they were this close. Instead, she stared intently at the screen as her fingers keyed in all the appropriate commands to effectively silence his phone.
"Then how do I turn it back on? You know, like next week when my dad calms down a little and finally accepts the fact that I want to live my own life and not follow in his footsteps?"
Yep, this guy definitely had daddy issues. But really, who was she to judge?
"Well, if he's anything like my mom" she couldn't stop the shudder that raised bumps on her bare arms "I doubt it will only take a week."
"You don't know the half of it. But I do need this phone for work, so as tempting as it might be, I can't stay off the grid forever."
She nodded at his true statement. As much as Mia had tried to hide out these past couple of years, it was impossible to disappear completely. At least not without losing a part of herself. And if she lost any more of herself, she wondered what would be left.
"In that case, you can just block his number like this, but still get calls from everyone else." She tapped away at his screen. "Of course, this will only work until he catches on and tries calling from an unblocked number."
"Hmm. Sneaky. But my father's pretty resourceful, so I wouldn't put it past him."
"My mother learned to call me from my great-aunt Nonnie's rest home, knowing I couldn't not answer. I'm sure your dad will figure out a way eventually. I find it's best to just take the call, let them lecture you for exactly two and half minutes and then pretend you have a UPS delivery at the door that you need to sign for and disconnect the call."
The man who'd been called GP laughed loudly enough to draw the attention of the piano player and the bartender. If she thought his smile made her insides all bubbly, his laughter made her want to melt.
Seriously, what kind of person made jokes about wacky family members with someone she'd never even met? Apparently, the same person who was still sitting here grinning like a giddy schoolgirl at the good-looking man.
He slipped his phone back inside his inner jacket pocket and when he did so, his hand rooted around before pulling out something else. He tossed a velvet-covered box on the bar and then looked up to the ceiling before running his hand over his forehead. The case looked like something that would hold jewelryan engagement ring perhaps. The thought that this man was walking around with such an item, yet appeared to be so frustrated and let down, made her wonder what exactly had happened to him earlier this evening.
"That's a pretty swanky-looking box," Mia said.